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National Front Makes Major Gains In French Regional Elections

Eiffel Tower French Tricolor

Perhaps not unexpectedly, France’s far right National Front achieved big electoral gains in yesterday’s local and regional elections:

PARIS — The far-right party of Marine Le Pen was poised to make major gains after the first round of voting in regional French elections on Sunday in the wake of terrorist attacks that traumatized the country last month.

When the votes were counted, Ms. Le Pen’s National Front party was pulling far ahead in two of France’s 13 regions and leading in four others. Trailing were the right-leaning parties, including the Republicains, led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Even further behind were the Socialists, whose best-known figure is President François Hollande.

Appearing before her supporters, Ms. Le Pen called it a “magnificent” result, saying the National Front was “the only party that can reconquer the lost territories of the republic, of Calais, where we won 50 percent of the votes, or of the suburbs.” What Ms. Le Pen described as “lost territories” were the French city of Calais on the English Channel, which now has more than 4,000 migrants on its doorstep hoping to reach Britain, and the suburbs of major French cities, many of which have sizable Muslim populations.

The National Front “is the only party to defend an authentically French republic,” she added, and to be dedicated to “the preservation of our way of life.”

With 100 percent of the votes counted, the turnout nationwide was 50 percent, which was somewhat higher than in the last regional elections, in 2010.

The National Front received 41 percent of the vote in the northern region known as Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, as well as in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, and members of the Le Pen family were at the top of the ballot in both regions\

Ms. Le Pen headed the group of National Front candidates in the north and her niece Marion Maréchal Le Pen headed the list of candidates in the south. In the eastern region of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, Florian Phillipot, who is Ms. Le Pen’s top lieutenant, took 36 percent of the vote.

The second round of voting next Sunday will determine the final results. In the last several elections the National Front has done well in the first round but found it harder to sustain gains in the second, when other competing parties have united or withdrawn to keep the far right from winning.

However, this time the high numbers for the National Front in a number of places suggest that the old political calculus may not hold, especially if the more traditional conservatives led by Mr. Sarkozy refuse to join with the Socialists to form a bloc.

Mr. Sarkozy announced after his party’s second-place showing that its candidates would not join with other parties or withdraw from the race.

In contrast, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the head of the Socialist Party, said that its candidates would withdraw from the elections in the two regions where the National Front did best, and that elsewhere it would join with other parties.

“The party of the extreme right threatens many regions of France,” Mr. Cambadélis said.

“The left is, then, the last rampart of Republican France against the xenophobic extreme right,” he said, calling on all the left-leaning parties to join together to defeat the National Front.

Ms. Le Pen and her party have thrived on an anti-immigration message that has verged on anti-Muslim, as well as a call for re-establishing European borders. These notions had already found traction as France faced an influx of Muslim immigrants from war-afflicted areas of the world. But she gained even more momentum after the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, in which 130 people were killed.

On the surface, of course, many both inside and outside of France will read the results of these elections as a reaction to recent events such as the attacks in Paris and the migrant crisis that has been impacting Europe since the summer. Both events, after all, hit on themes that the National Front has been at the forefront of since its founding such as opposition to increased immigration into France, and especially immigration from Muslim nations such as Algeria, which has been one of the largest sources of immigrants into France for decades due to that nation’s history as a French colony and the continued relationship that Paris has maintained there and with other predominantly Muslim nations in Africa. Indeed, the fact that French President Hollande has responded to the attack in Paris with a ramp-up in French military involvement in the war against ISIS and a very visible effort to help craft an international coalition against the group has, in part, been attributed to a desire on his part to address domestic political concerns that the attacks would both hurt his already troubled political standing and help the political fortunes of groups like the National Front. At the same time, though, political analysts in France are warning against attributing these results solely to a response to the attacks, and raising the concern that this is just another step on the road to the National Front, which has remade its image significantly since Marine Le Pen took control of the party away from her father, becoming a more prominent player in French politics:

[S]everal analysts said it was important not to overplay the recent attacks in explaining her success. Rather, they see a long-term trend in which the National Front has gained ground in election after election. It has done so even more rapidly since Ms. Le Pen took leadership of the party from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011.

“The dynamic in favor of the National Front is not a superficial reaction of the French electorate in a situation of crisis after the attack,” said Bruno Cautrès, a political analyst and public opinion specialist at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po.

“It is something more long lasting in the French political system,” he said.

The outcome will be read here as a forecast of the politics of the presidential election in 2017, but already Ms. Le Pen has changed the tenor of political debate in France. Across the political spectrum, politicians are taking a harder line on immigration, and there is a newfound willingness to reconsider the rules that govern the open borders among European Union countries.

“She had won before the vote,” said Joël Gombin, a political analyst at the Observatory for Radicalism at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a think tank.

“The old themes and proposals of the National Front have been reprised in the political debate, not only on the right but also, more and more, on the left and in particular in the voice of the executive branch, and that legitimizes the National Front,” he said.

Both Mr. Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have evoked more nationalistic themes recently and taken a particularly hard line on security issues. Although the government is leans left, its leaders have begun to discuss extending the state of emergency, which gives law enforcement extraordinary powers, beyond its current duration of three months.

The next French Presidential and national legislative elections will not take place for another two years, so the national impact of these National Front gains is likely to be somewhat muted for the time being. Additionally, to the extent that these results are at least partly attributable to the events of November 13th and the migrant crisis of the summer of 2015, it seems unlikely that those issues will be resonating quite as strongly in two years at that point as they are today. Nonetheless, as the analysis quoted above notes, the rise of the National Front is something that has been going on for far longer than just the past several months or weeks and these victories are likely to strengthen the parties as France heads toward its next round of elections. Three years ago, Le Pen herself ended up coming in third place in the first round of France’s Presidential election with nearly 18% of the vote, but her party only ended up winning two seats in the legislature and actually got nearly three million fewer votes than LePen received as a Presidential candidate. One suspects that the Front’s prospects will be much better when 2017 rolls around, though, and while it seems unlikely that Marine Le Pen will be elected President at that point, it is fairly clear that the National Front is likely to become a more powerful bloc in the French Parliament and a much bigger influence in French politics. The likelihood of this happening would probably increase if there were additional terror attacks in the future, especially if those attacks originated from among the poorly assimilated immigrant enclaves that exist in many French cities.

As I’ve noted before, it seems apparent that the rise of far right parties like the National Front in France and other similar parties other parts of Europe is a dual reaction to the immigration issue and to the failure of mainstream political parties in many parts of Europe to address the concerns of voters.  On the first issue, of course, the fact that many nations in Europe have a long history of failing to adequately assimilate immigrants from other parts of the world is a long standing issue that only now seems to be coming home to roost. In many nations, these immigrants continue to live in isolated communities where they seldom interact with outsiders. While this is something that isn’t uncommon in the United States among first generation immigrants, it is typically a temporary situation here that doesn’t last much past the first generation of immigrants, and sometimes even not that long. In Europe, though, these immigrant ghettos, for lack of a better word seem to become long-standing in no small part because the wider culture seems either unable or unwilling to integrate outsiders into the wider culture, and sends a message to these immigrants that they are somehow not really part of the country they live in. The best most recent example of this, perhaps, can be seen in the Molenbeek neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium, which has been the source and a refuge for many recent terror cells thanks to a process that has turned the neighborhood into a center of radical Muslim activity due in no small part to neglect and inattention from city and national officials. In many nations, communities like this have become recruiting venues for ISIS and other radical groups, and the problems that these communities have created, again in no small part due to neglect from the mainstream parties and the wider culture of many European nations, have become the fuel that have empowered far-right parties like the National Front. As long as that continues, and if there continue to be events like the Charlie Hebdo and November 13th attacks, then unfortunately it’s likely that people like Marine Le Pen will become more prominent players in European politics.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Guarneri says:

    Reynold’s theorem, Exhibit A.

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  2. C. Clavin says:

    Do you think Republican fear-monger for nothing?
    They have no ideas…but they have fear and hatred.
    Trump et al are showing that it works.
    Guarneri, Jack, Reynolds…they all buy it without a critical thought. Be afraid…be very afraid.

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  3. James Pearce says:

    @Guarneri: And the counter-argument:

    Rather, they see a long-term trend in which the National Front has gained ground in election after election. It has done so even more rapidly since Ms. Le Pen took leadership of the party from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011.

    I think we’re far enough away from the Nazis (who tainted Europe’s “far right” for generations) and the collapse of communism (which basically eliminated the “far right” in certain regions) that we’re primed for a natural rise in right-leaning parties, untainted by Nazi ideology and responding (for over 20 years now) to something other than communism.

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  4. Eric Reese says:

    @C. Clavin:

    SPAM

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  5. Rafer Janders says:

    Mon chere, non. People who don’t have a basic understanding of French politics probably shouldn’t opine on it. While of course the recent Paris attacks didn’t help, the FN were probably already going to win anyway, even before the terrorism issue.

    The overriding issue in France and much of Europe these days isn’t terrorism, it’s anger at the economy and at the EU (which is often proxy for anger at Germany, the dominant economic power in the EU). The EU (again, in large part because of Germany) has been following misguided austerity policies the last few years, and even Hollande, the Socialist, has repudiated his party’s earlier anti-austerity stance after getting elected. Therefore, voters who wanted to cast an anti-EU and anti-austerity vote led themselves to the party which has been the most reliably anti-European unity party, the Front National.

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  6. Guarneri says:

    I’d tell you my theory and plan, but like Obama’s ………it’s secret.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    @Guarneri:

    Reynold’s theorem, Exhibit A.

    Reynolds’ theorem is that people are weak and cowardly — they will react emotionally, not intellectually, and will cling to whoever promises safety and revenge whether they can deliver on it or not.

    Exhibit A in Reynolds’ theorem is Reynolds himself.

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  8. James Pearce says:

    @Guarneri:

    I’d tell you my theory and plan, but like Obama’s ………it’s secret.

    It’s not so secret.

    A) Elect Donald Trump
    B) ??
    C) Profit

    But then again, it’s not much of a plan either.

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  9. Guarneri says:

    Yeah, that silly Reynolds. He’s really missing the boat on this one. He needs to start listening to the slack-jawed pavlovians in the OTB comments section telling us how nobody will react. It’s obvious.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/us/in-wake-of-shootings-a-familiar-call-to-arms-drives-latest-jump-in-weapon-sales.html?_r=0

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  10. C. Clavin says:

    @Guarneri:
    So 10.6 gun deaths per 100,000 people isn’t enough for you…how many do you see as the right amount?

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  11. James Pearce says:

    @Guarneri: Shorter Guareneri: “Don’t look at me. Look at this guy over here.”

    Kudos on the use of “Pavlovian” though. It must really suck when your mouth starts watering at the mention of gun control, eh?

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  12. grumpy realist says:

    @Rafer Janders: It’s probably a combination of fear-of-those-who-don’t-assimilate, a wish to cock a snook at Brussels bureaucrats, and also an “up-yours!” to all les grandes enarques who have been ignoring the grumbling for years. French politics for years have been a Tweedledum-Tweedledee handoff between the Socialists and the Conservatives.

    Remember that the term poujadist was invented in France. This is just another round of the same old thing.

    Am awfully surprised that the Enarques didn’t see this coming and do something to head it off, but the only people they end up talking to are other Enarques, either in France or in Brussels.

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  13. Davebo says:

    @Guarneri:

    Jumps in weapons sales have been the standard since 2008. Then, when no gun legislation was passed it was 2012 because surely, having won re-election Obama would come for your guns.

    It didn’t happen of course. But the cost of ammo and weapons like the bushmaster went idiotic and sales increased by almost 10 billion dollars.

    Right now you can pick up an AR-15 for $400 that some idiot paid $1,400 for.

    Diamonds are forever, and so are firearms. And both depreciate by 60% when you walk out of the dealers door while the salesman smiles.

    No one is coming for your guns.

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  14. MikeSJ says:

    @Gustopher:

    Reynold’s theorem, Exhibit A.

    Reynolds’ theorem is that people are weak and cowardly — they will react emotionally, not intellectually, and will cling to whoever promises safety and revenge whether they can deliver on it or not.

    Exhibit A in Reynolds’ theorem is Reynolds himself.

    Am I the only person who remembers the Great Ebola Panic of 2014? Might I remind you that America didn’t exactly cover itself with Glory during that truly shameful period?

    Good God, one death and some infected people and this country went off the rails. The painful stupidity, the sickening abandonment of common sense and due process by Government officials (state level) was a sight to behold. Mr. Reynolds theory seems to have historical backing.

    Mr. Reynolds has predicted that people will not tolerate ongoing Islamic terror attacks. The numbers don’t matter. The fact that Hillbilly Bob shoots up something won’t matter. What matters is they will not stand for ongoing Islamic terrorism. Le Pen in France is just the start.

    God help us if there is another major incident on par with 9-11. At this point even numerically insignificant killings like San Bernardino can potentially ignite a backlash. There is a very large population in America who simply don’t understand why we allow Muslims to immigrate.

    They will react and it won’t be pretty. President Trump (shudders) is not out of the question because of this.

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  15. humanoid.panda says:

    @MikeSJ: All this is true, unfortunately. However, the Reynolds Solution (stop immigration+nuke Raqqa) would do nothing to resolve the issue, and would in all likelihood make future attacks more likely. So, what is there to be done? Put Muslims in internment camps so that President Trump won’t put them in concentration camps? Sometimes, you just have to stick to your principles and good policy, and hope that passions subside. That’s what Obama did with the Ebola panic, and hey, we are not dead!

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  16. Grewgills says:

    Drew, Guarneri, thank you for helping to illustrate by your agreement just how addled by all of this MR has become.

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  17. James Pearce says:

    @MikeSJ:

    They will react and it won’t be pretty. President Trump (shudders) is not out of the question because of this.

    One idea that needs to die, among many others, is this idea that terrorism is a boon to Republican electoral chances.

    That’s been repeated so much that people seem to just believe it uncritically. And when has it ever been true?

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  18. MikeSJ says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    So, what is there to be done?

    ISIS – start putting real pressure on our “allies’ Turkey and Saudi Arabia to put troops in place and start heavy air strikes. Turkey could also stop coddling terrorists as well.

    Money – start killing the rich Saudi’s and Qatari’s who fund world wide terrorism. But be polite about it in public. Lots of heart attacks and flu deaths. But hunt them down and kill them. It’s time the engine that drives world wide Islamic terrorism started paying a price.

    Immigrants from Saudi Arabia – not ideal but curtail them somehow. (OK, I know this isn’t practical but Goddamn do they cause lots of problems.)

    Social Media – close all the Jihadi websites and twitter accounts. Find who is posting them and kill them. If they are citizens of US or UK, revoke their citizenship and send them back to the middle east, even if they are born in the US or UK. Make this equivalent to supporting the Nazi’s during WWII.

    Close down all the Wahhabi mosques. Disallow Saudi funding of any institutions in the US. They’ve done enough to support terrorism as it is. Time to pull the plug on them.

    Will this matter in the end? Probably not but it’s a start.

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  19. MikeSJ says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m thinking Dubya got re-elected in part because of fears of terrorism.

    I sincerely hope that I’m wrong about this and that you are correct.

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  20. Andre Kenji says:

    Rafers is right. It´s true that the Front National made gains from the Paris attack, but they were gaining ground for some years until now.

    François Hollande has it´s own popularity problems. That´s a video from a popular French satirical show: even if you don´t know French you can see that Hollande has DEEP problems of image in his own country.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4Td9QTJSRY

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  21. James Pearce says:

    @MikeSJ:

    I’m thinking Dubya got re-elected in part because of fears of terrorism.

    Nah, he got re-elected because John Kerry was a goof and incumbents almost always win.

    Republicans have been telling themselves for years that they’re good on terrorism. But 15 years into the Global War on Terrorism, I don’t know why anyone would continue to believe it.

    It’s like those pills that claim to help you lost weight. Just because it appears in the commercial, doesn’t make it so.

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  22. C. Clavin says:

    @MikeSJ:

    Mr. Reynolds has predicted that people will not tolerate ongoing Islamic terror attacks. The numbers don’t matter.

    Well, that theory is not novel.
    The question is how do you respond when there is a terror attack.
    Certainly not by giving the enemy exactly what they want.

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  23. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    when has it ever been true?

    2004

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  24. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills:

    2004

    Bush’s incumbency had more to do with his re-election in 04 than “terrorism.”

    If you want to say the Iraq War helped him, yeah, okay. Just do that in a separate breath from the one that mentions terrorism because the one has nothing to do with the other.

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  25. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:
    Incumbency, Iraq, Afghanistan, and fear of terrorism helped him narrowly beat a poorly run campaign. It certainly wasn’t the only factor, but fear of terrorists helped W and his allies at least until 2006.

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  26. Grewgills says:

    @MikeSJ:

    ISIS – start putting real pressure on our “allies’ Turkey and Saudi Arabia to put troops in place and start heavy air strikes. Turkey could also stop coddling terrorists as well.

    There are limits to what we can accomplish with Turkey and other regional ‘allies’, but no real disagreement there.

    Money – start killing the rich Saudi’s and Qatari’s who fund world wide terrorism. But be polite about it in public. Lots of heart attacks and flu deaths. But hunt them down and kill them. It’s time the engine that drives world wide Islamic terrorism started paying a price.

    We should go after their money, but assassinations within allied countries would be counterproductive. We should go after their money though. We need to be freezing all international accounts by the princes and others that are financing Daesh, Al Quaeda, etc.

    Immigrants from Saudi Arabia – not ideal but curtail them somehow. (OK, I know this isn’t practical but Goddamn do they cause lots of problems.)

    Not much we can do there that would be of net help.

    Social Media – close all the Jihadi websites and twitter accounts. Find who is posting them and kill them. If they are citizens of US or UK, revoke their citizenship and send them back to the middle east, even if they are born in the US or UK. Make this equivalent to supporting the Nazi’s during WWII.

    We’re already going after their web and social media, but that can intensify. You’ll run into due process problems with the rest of that.

    Close down all the Wahhabi mosques. Disallow Saudi funding of any institutions in the US. They’ve done enough to support terrorism as it is. Time to pull the plug on them.

    The 1st amendment prevents the first and the rest is also unworkable.

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  27. Bill Lefrak says:

    The French election results of course are not surprising. Reality has a way of clarifying thought processes and clearing out the cobwebs. Adults who vote in elections generally speaking are not quite as terminally loopy and confused as are for example the airheaded dolts who make up U.S. academia, blogs and the media.

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  28. An Interested Party says:

    Adults who vote in elections generally speaking are not quite as terminally loopy and confused as are for example the airheaded dolts who make up…blogs…

    And we thank you for serving as the perfect example of your own criticism…

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